This weekend several people have asked for the text of the words i spoke at the funeral on Friday of my friend and next-door neighbor, Assemblyman Tom Kirwan. As best as i can re-create it, here is what i said, from my heart, about this gem of a man.
Neighbors! I want to share just a few memories (out of hundreds) of Tom Kirwan, the guy i called “the nice Jewish boy next door.”
My view of Tom was the view out my kitchen window, across the yard we shared, and over the garden we shared, and along the picket fence we shared. I saw him every day sitting on that porch overlooking the Hudson, working his phone, talking to hordes of neighbors – and here’s the point: As far as Tom was concerned, all humans were his neighbors – and helping every one of them. Tom had a passion for justice like that of the prophets, and he was especially devoted to our veterans, senior citizens, children, and the most vulnerable among us. That’s one reason why i called him “the nice Jewish boy next door.”
I think watching the broad river roll by all those years suited Tom; it fed his natural expansiveness and generosity of spirit. And God, was he generous. Often when i saw him and Vernie all dressed up and getting into their car i’d call out, “Where are you guys off to?” and he’d always say, “We’re going out to dinner; wanna come?” Or, “We’re going to a concert by the Greater Newburgh Symphony Orchestra; wanna come?” If i’d say, “Look at me; i’m filthy; i’m in the garden,” he’d say, “Oh, come on; nobody cares.” He never, ever walked past my house with a bag of bagels or a box of pizza without stopping at my door to offer me some.
But most of all, he was generous with his time. He would drop everything to help anyone.
When i first moved back to my old hometown of Newburgh, just 10 years ago, i was still commuting to my job in Albany, and my husband was living in a parsonage in Long Island, where he is a Methodist pastor.
One morning shortly after we moved in — and i barely knew Tom at that point — i stopped during my commute to Albany to use the ladies’ room at a rest area, and then continued on to work. About noon, as i started to leave work to do some errands, i realized my wallet was missing! Maybe i took it out of my purse at that rest area, to buy a cup of coffee, and left it on a counter there? But i didn’t recall buying coffee. And, which rest area was it? I totally panicked.
Now, a show of hands, please: How many here, when you lose you wallet, call your assemblyman?
Well, i did: I called Tom. He was working out of his Newburgh office that day. I called him blubbering: “Tom, i lost my wallet, and it had money, my ATM card, my credit card, my license.… Tom, you’re an old state trooper: Can you get one of them to pull into those rest areas and see if my wallet is there?”
Very calmly, he said, “Are you sure you had it with you in the car?” I said “Yeah; i always keep it in my purse.” He said, “Describe it to me. I’ll get back to you.”
Fifteen minutes later my phone rang. “Abie-Baby, I got your wallet,” he says.
“You mean, a trooper found it at the rest area? And brought it to you? Already?! Are you sure it’s mine?”
He said, “I’m sure. I’m upstairs, in your house. You left it on your desk.”
I wrung my hands and started sobbing all over again: “Oh my God, thank you! I don’t know what i would have done! You saved my life! Thank you. Tom! Thank you, so much!”
Then i stopped and straightened up.
“Wait,” i said. “You’re in my house?”
“How’d you get into my house?”
“Abie-Baby,” he said, “Never ask an old state trooper how he got into your house.”
Tom ran to do good, and that’s another reason i called him the nice Jewish boy next door.
The other story i wanted to share relates to Tom’s famous honesty. A few years ago we invited Tom and Vernie to our Passover seder. These go on for hours; there’s readings from the Book of Exodus, and a whole bunch of rituals, and then there’s a great big feast. Tom and Vernie came over, and Tom had about, oh, three or four helpings of matzo-ball soup, and when they left i sent them home with even more, because he loved it so much.
Well, the following spring, i saw Tom sitting on his porch reading the paper one morning and i ran up to him and said, “Hey, can you come over for Pesach again?”
He kept turning pages. “Nah; I don’t think so,” he said.
I said, “Why not? You loved it, didn’t you?”
He said, “Oh, it was perfectly nice, but it takes so long to get to the dinner!”
“Tom,” i scolded, “The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years; is it asking too much to take 4 hours to re-enact that?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Tell ya what: Just send the soup.”
I was lucky, as a neighbor, to get to see firsthand, every day, how Tom did justly, and loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God. And that was the view from my kitchen window of Tom Kirwan, the nice Jewish boy next door.
But now what is left for us to do? Well, we can donate to the Nora Cronin Presentation Academy, the little Catholic girls school here that Tom loved so much and that Vernie serves so ably as a board member and a tutor; but beyond that, i think that the best way to honor Tom — and the one whom we all call “Father” — is to just go out and try to be a better human.
And — like Tom — to love your neighbor as yourself.
LOVE your neighbor.